Each fall the Veterans of Foreign Wars Raymond McGill Post 2256 and the Ladies Auxiliary of Benton provide an opportunity for Saline County students to express their views on patriotism and democracy and earn monetary awards through the Patriot’s Pen essay contest.
This year’s theme, "What Would I Tell Our Founding Fathers?," drew more than 220 contestants from local middle and junior high school students.
Receiving recognition in the contest were: Brooke Snyder, who won first place, Bethel Middle School; Mason Woolbright, who placed second, Benton Junior High; and Natalie Burgess, who finished third, Bethel Middle School.
“All of my eighth-grade history students participated in the contest,” said Anthony Rushing, Bethel Middle School history teacher, a 22-year-veteran and a current member of the Arkansas Army National Guard. “I am proud that two of my students were selected to be [part of the] three finalists from Saline County.”
A panel of local VFW members and members of the VFW Auxiliary judged the contest; they considered the participants’ knowledge of the theme, development of the theme and the clarity of their ideas.
“I was very surprised I won, because there were so many people who entered,” Brooke said. “In my essay, I said I would thank the Founding Fathers for all they did for our country, but I also said I wish they could see how different things are now. Some issues need improvement. People are persecuted for their beliefs, and some of our rights are being threatened, such as the freedom to own a gun.”
“I’d worked really hard on the essay, but I was surprised that I won second place,” Mason said.
Students weren’t the only ones recognized by the local VFW Post. Because of his efforts in incorporating patriotism and citizenship in the classroom, Rushing received the esteemed VFW Department of Arkansas Citizenship Education Teacher Award.
“I stress the importance of getting involved in learning how our nation and government operates in order to be intelligent and functioning citizens when they are adults,” Rushing said. “I tell them all that the main reason you need to study history is to become a better citizen.”
Post Commander Mike McCune said, “Our post is very supportive of all the youth programs and activities in Saline County. The essay contest is one of the things we do in order to support our community.”
The Saline County winners received monetary awards and will now have a chance to compete at the district level, and possibly state and national levels if selected.